The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

June 3, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★★½

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley
Published: January 16th 2014 by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover, 476 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
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3.5 Stars

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

The Emperor’s Blades is one of my most anticipated reads of 2014. It sounds like a promising début: an awesome world populated by people who aren’t all white, some sinister sounding magic and politics, and a story following the Emperor’s three children after his death.

The title refers not to some mythical weaponry, but the three children whose lives are thrown into turmoil after the sudden death of their father the Emperor. The eldest is Adare, who is perfectly suited to ruling after her father, except that her being a woman stops her from doing so. The heir is Kaden, who has lived and trained as a monk for the last eight years, and the youngest is Valyn, who has spent the same time training to become one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Although they each began as stereotypes, I think the more I got to know them, the more interesting and nuanced they became.

The boys, Kaden and Valyn, get much more ‘air-time’ than Adare, which surprised and disappointed me for a number of reasons. Firstly, as the only one of the Emperor’s children actually left in the capital of the empire, she’s perfectly suited to rule until Kaden’s return, and to hunt down their father’s murderer. The blurb makes it sound like she’s doing just that. So imagine my surprise when she’s effectively shoved to the sidelines as a supposedly incompetent male regent takes over.

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The blurb would have you believe that this is the story of three children who have to use their very different skills and talents to find and defeat their father’s murderer. The blurb would be wrong. About 70% of this book is back-story. It takes just under 350 pages for Kaden to learn he’s the Emperor now. I usually complain that I never get to see protagonists before the action begins in their lives, and that starting a story on the day the new and weird stuff starts doesn’t let me see how the characters were before-hand, but taking 70% of the story to for the back-story seems excessive to me. For the most part, The Emperor’s Blades sets up the rest of the series, and I feel that much of it could have been released as a prequel. I love that I got to know the characters really well before the action really started, but I think the book will lose many readers because they’re expecting what the synopsis promises, and they don’t get it for a very long time.

Valyn is training to become a Kettral and join the “empire’s deadliest fighting force”. He’s still a cadet when we meet him, about to undergo the dangerous Hull’s Trials and emerge as a full Kettral. He has a few friends, including Ha Lin, a fellow cadet who he’s attracted to even though dalliances between the Kettral are forbidden. While Valyn learns to become a killer, Kaden the heir, is being trained to meditate and paint by monks.

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The world of The Emperor’s Blades is very interesting, bound to keep readers flipping pages to find out more. The prologue sets up the mythology brilliantly, and I don’t think anyone could put the book down after reading it! Only a few things are actually explored in the book, with most of it setting us up for high revelations in later volumes, but there are hints that this is a well constructed world that we will love discovering over the series.

The magic system remains largely mysterious throughout the book. Another thing I’m looking forward to finding out more about.

I enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades and think it’s good début from a promising author. It has a few issues that I’d like to see addressed in the sequels, but overall, it ends on a high note and definitely has me looking forward to the next book.

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